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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Owing to the exertions of the nuncio and of von Hannart


His

success was more apparent than real. The Diet of 1524 did not absolutely refuse to enforce the Edict of Worms against Luther and his followers; they promised to execute it "as well as they were able, and as far as was possible," and the cities had made it plain that the enforcement was impossible. They renewed their demand for a General Council to meet in a suitable German town to settle the affairs of the Church in Germany, and again declared that meanwhile nothing should be preached contrary to the Word of God and the Holy Gospel. They went further, and practically resolved that a National Council, to deliberate on the condition of the Church in Germany, should meet at Speyer in November and make an interim settlement of its ecclesiastical affairs, to last until the meeting of a General Council. It is true that, owing to the exertions of the nuncio and of von Hannart, the phrase National Synod was omitted, and the meeting was to be one of the Estates of Germany at which the councillors and learned divines of the various princes were to formulate all the disputed points, and to consider anew the grievances of the German nation against the Papacy; but neither the nuncio nor von Hannart deceived themselves as to the real meaning of the resolution. "It will be a National Council for Germany," said Hannart in his report. Nothing could be more alarming to the Pope. There was always a possibility of managing a General Council; but a German National Synod, including a large number of
lay representatives, meeting in a German town, foreshadowed an independent National German Church which would insist on separation from the Roman See. The Pope wrote to Henry VIII. of England asking him to harass the German merchants; he induced the Emperor to forbid the proposed meeting of the German States; and, what was more important, he instructed his nuncio to take steps secretly to form a league of German princes who were still favourable to maintaining the mediaeval Church with its doctrines, ceremonies, and usages. This inaugurated the religious divisions of Germany.

? 2. The beginnings of Division in Germany.

The Diet of Speyer (1524) may perhaps be taken as the beginning of the separation of Germany into two opposite camps of Protestant and Roman Catholic, although the real parting of the ways actually occurred after the Peasants' War. The overthrow, or at least discrediting of the _Reichsregiment_, placed the management of everything, including the settlement of the religious question, in the hands of the princes, none of whom, with the exception of the Elector of Saxony, cared much for the idea of nationality; while some of them, however anxious they were, or once had been, for ecclesiastical reforms, were genuinely afraid of the "tumult" which they believed might lurk behind any conspicuous changes in religious usages. Duke George of Saxony, who was keenly alive to the corruptions in the Church, dreaded above all things the beginnings of a Hussite movement in Germany. He knew that an assiduous, penetrating, secret Hussite, or rather Taborite propaganda had been going on in Germany for long. As early as the Leipzig Disputation (1519), when John Eck had skilfully forced Luther into the avowal that he approved of some things in the Hussite revolt, Duke George was seen to put his arms akimbo, to wag his long beard, and was heard to ejaculate, "God help us! The plague!" A fear of Hussite revolution displays itself in his correspondence, and very notably in his letters to Duke John of Saxony and to the Elector about the disturbances in Wittenberg. It was a triumph for the Roman Curia when its partisans, from Eck onwards, were able to fix the stigma of Hussitism on the Lutheran movement; and the career of the Zwickau Prophets, notwithstanding their suppression by Luther, was, to many, an indication of what might lie behind the new preaching. When the Peasants' War came in 1525, many of the earlier sympathisers with Luther saw in it an indication of the dangers into which they fancied that Luther was leading Germany. It is also to be noticed that many of the Humanists now began to desert the Lutheran cause; his Augustinian theology made them think that he was bent on creating a new Scholastic which seemed to them almost as bad as the old, which they had been delighted to see him attack.


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